The Kruger Park – a Local Treasure and Wonder for Overseas Visitors
An annual pilgrimage to “The Kruger” is a time-honored tradition that many lucky South Africans have grown up enjoying on a regular basis. Most of us took this enormous privilege for granted, just as we tend to take our marvelous landscape for granted! However, for countless visitors from distant shores the Kruger National Park is a major draw-card and the highlight of their visit to Africa.
The Kruger National Park was proclaimed in 1898 by the then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger, who was a far-sighted man who realized the necessity of protecting one of the country’s most valuable assets – our amazing diversity of wildlife. The enormous park, (the largest in South Africa and the second largest on the continent!), covers an area of over 19,633 km² (7,580 miles²) in the far north-eastern corner of the country adjacent to Zimbabwe and Mozambique and is home to an impressive diversity of habitats which support one of the densest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. Along the unfenced western boundary of the park are around 20 privately owned and operated game parks, which form part of the Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP). To the north of the park the fences are also coming down to allow animals to access ancient migratory routes through southern Zimbabwe and Mozambique, forming the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
Where to Go and What to See?
This may sound like a silly question, but with such a vast expanse of wilderness to explore you will need to have some priorities in place – even so, you will have to return year after year if you really want to see all the amazing nooks and crannies in The Kruger. Each of the four principle areas of the park have their own allure, for instance the far-northern region is famous for offering outstanding bird-watching, but if you are a first-timer or only have a small amount of time to spend on your safari, the southern part of the park is hard to beat.
The Southern Kruger National Park
The southern part of The Kruger is bounded by the Crocodile River at the southern boundary of the park and the Sabie River in the north. It is not only easily accessible via road or air, but also has some great camps you can use as your base, and is home to more trees than other parts of the park, making it a particularly attractive landscape to explore, dotted with southern Africa’s iconic rounded “koppies” (smooth, rounded granite outcrops loved by baboons, hyrax and leopard). What draws many international and local visitors to the southern part of the park is that this is where you are most likely to come across Africa’s most endangered species, the white rhino. In addition, there are really good concentrations of many other animals including good-sized herds of kudu and impala, many giraffe, elephant and zebra and huge herds of buffalo who love the dams just south of Lower Sabie rest camp. It is true that there are fewer lions in this area, but that means you have a better chance of spotting cheetah, leopard and wild dog, and you can easily take a day-drive into the central area of the park to seek out some of the 60 prides of lion who make that area their home. (Having said that, I must mention that on my last trip to southern Kruger, we had several lion sightings along the main road (H4-2) between Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie).
Where to Stay in the Southern Kruger National Park
Berg en Dal Rest Camp is one of the newest camps in The Kruger (1984) and was built to blend in perfectly with its rugged mountainous setting and to provide more comfortable lodgings than many of the older rest camps. The camp has serviced campsites, one bedroom cottages for two or three guests, two-bedroom family cottages sleeping up to 6, as well as two guesthouses with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. All the cottages are self-catering, and several are arranged around the perimeter of the camp where you have a chance of seeing wildlife stroll by. (There is a good chance of seeing hyena around the fence while you are having a barbecue – please be sure not to feed them!)
A big bonus of staying at Berg en Dal Camp is that there is a large swimming pool which is a blessing after a hot dusty walk or game drive. In addition the camp has a restaurant overlooking a dam, a Laundromat and shop. Bird watching is great all around the camp and if you are interested in seeing some ancient Koisan (Bushman) rock art you can join a guided walk to a nearby site. Berg en Dal camp offers guided bush walks, game drives, wildlife movies and a Rhino Perimeter Trail camp walk with Braille facilities.
Lower Sabie Rest Camp has got to be one of the most popular camps in The Kruger, mainly due to the large concentrations of game that make this area of the park their home. The grass is green and sweet (well…it usually is when we are not experiencing a drought!) and the plentiful water attracts a wide variety of game, closely followed by eager predators. The camp is spread out along the southern bank of the Sabie River, (one of the few perennial water courses in the park) and boasts many huge sycamore fig trees which provide very welcome shade and attract huge numbers of birds who come to feast on the copious fruit.
The camp offers visitors a variety of accommodation options which range from the basic tent or caravan sites, to huts, bungalows, safari tents and two luxury guesthouses. Lower Sabie offers guided bush walks, game drives and bush breakfasts/dinners. Nearby attractions include Sunset Dam, a popular place to park and watch the passing parade of thirsty animals coming down to drink, and the Nthandanyati Bird Hide where keen twitchers can enjoy some excellent bird watching.
How to Make the Best of the Kruger National Park
Many local visitors choose a self-drive holiday in the park, spending a few nights in each of their favourite camps. It is a great way to spend a week or two getting back to nature and enjoying the awesome wildlife. However, if you are new to the park or it is your first time on safari it is highly recommended that you have a knowledgeable guide by your side to unlock all the mysteries of the bush for you. To begin with, it takes years of practice to learn how to spot the cleverly-camouflaged wildlife, and inside info will make it so much easier to find animals in this enormous wilderness.
Most professional safari companies are staffed by naturists and conservationists who are passionate about the bush and about sharing their knowledge. They know all there is to know about the flora and fauna, where to find the lions, where the elephant hang out and how to identify tracks. Instead of just showing you the animals, they will bring the bush to life, introduce you to the littlest creatures and make your safari an unforgettable experience. In addition, they look after all the details, bookings and even the food so that you can concentrate on having the most amazing African safari experience possible. In most cases you can choose from a set itinerary or have one tailored to suit your special interests, your group size and dynamics and the amount of time you have available.
When to Come
The Kruger National Park is truly a year-round destination, with warm mild winters and hot dry summers. Each season has its own charm – in spring (Sept/Oct) the bush is full of baby animals, tottering around on impossibly wobbly legs offering marvelous photo opportunities. In summer the bird life is wonderful, but if there have been good spring rains the bush can be very lush and wildlife is hard to spot. Autumn and Winter (anytime from April to August) is probably the very best time to visit as the grass is shorter and casual water will be drying up, forcing animals to congregate around rivers and dams. In addition, mosquitoes are less of a problem in winter and the days are cooler.
What to Bring
The single most important article to bring with you on safari is a pair of good binoculars – one for each person! A spotting scope is another option, and you can use one of these fantastic gadgets to turn an ordinary camera into something capable of snapping amazing distant images, like that leopard reclining in the tree canopy! The next most important things to bring are sunscreen, a sun hat, sturdy walking shoes and insect repellent, and a dust-proof bag to protect your binoculars and camera while on game drives is a good idea. When it comes to clothing, just make sure you wear neutral colors (beige, brown, khaki, etc) if you plan to go on game walks – white or bright colors will make you stand out in the bush and startle the animals.
Safari 1 (Africa Guide):
Safari 2 (Ker-Downey): 9 Day Luxury Cape Town, Sabi Sand & Kruger Experience